Billy Collins

Billy Collins
* Books of Poetry (alphabetical). * Billy Collins exercise. * Time Line. * Books.

Billy Collins featured in:

* Best American Poetry: 2013 (guest editor Denise Duhamel) with "Foundling".
* Best American Poetry: 2012 (guest editor Mark Doty) with "Delivery".
* Best American Poetry: 2011 (guest editor Kevin Young) with "Here and There".
* Best American Poetry: 2010 (guest editor Amy Gerstler) with "Grave".
* Best American Poetry: 2007 (guest editor Heather McHugh) with "The New Today".
* Best American Poetry: 2004 (guest editor Lyn Hejinian) with "The Centrifuge".
* Best American Poetry: 2003 (guest editor Yusef Komunyakaa) with "Litany".
* Best American Poetry: 2001 (guest editor Robert Hass) with "Snow Day".
* Best American Poetry: 2000 (guest editor Rita Dove) with "Man Listening to Disc".
* Best American Poetry: 1999 (guest editor Robert Bly) with "Dharma".
* Best American Poetry: 1998 (guest editor John Hollander) with "Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles from Tintern Abbey".
* Best American Poetry: 1997 (guest editor James Tate) with "Lines Lost Among Trees".
* Best American Poetry: 1993 (guest editor Louise Glück) with "Tuesday, June 4th, 1991".

Books of Poetry (alphabetical)

Billy Collins' tenth collection of poetry.


Billy Collins' first full-length collection of poetry.

A fine book in many ways, though also as usual smirky. Or, to use a word that comes to Collins' mind in "Passivity" (pp. 81-82): "sneering".

Some of his old humor glitters, but only in ways that Collins has trodden so thoroughly before that there is little unexpected or amazing.

Worse, tinges of bitterness litter several poems, such as the title poem "Ballistics" (pp. 31-32), which hopes that the inspirational bullet shot through:

   a recent collection of poems written
   by someone of whom I am not fond
   and that the bullet must have passed through
   his writing with little resistance
   and then through the author's photograph,
   through the beard, the rounded glasses,
   and that special poet's hat he loves to wear.   

Is it meant to be funny? If so, how sad that it sounds spiteful.

And what does one make of the tone set by the frontis-quotation from Ovid's Metamorphoses: "Even as a cow she was lovely."

However, pleasanter poems than the above include:

He has one remarkable poem: "(detail)" (pp. 66-67).

And indicates where some of his disgruntlement arises in poems like "Separation" (pp. 73-74) and "Divorce" (p. 98).

The truest poem, and one that will become dear to Camaldoli Retreatants, is "Quiet" (pp. 37-39), which ends:

   In fact, I had only a single afternoon
   of total silence to show for myself,
   a spring day in a cell in Big Sur,
   twenty or so monks also silent in their nearby cells --   
   a community of Cameldolites [Collins' typo],
   an order so stringent, my guide told me,
   that they make the Benedictines,
   whom they had had broken away from in the 11th century,
   look like a bunch of Hell's Angels.
   Out of a lifetime of running my mouth
   and leaning on the horn of ego,
   only a single afternoon of being truly quiet
   on a high cliff with the Pacific spread out below,
   .... Yet since then --
   nothing but the racket of self-advertisement,
   the little king of the voice having its say,
   and today the pride of writing this down,
   which must be the reason my pen
   has turned its back on me to hide its face in its hands.

Acknowledges first publications in:

Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds

Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds: edited by Billy Collins; paintings by David Allen Sibley.

Collins' introduction includes (p.6):

The genre of poetry makes its true appearance at the very point along the line of verbal expression where the possibilities of prose have been exhausted. The job of poetry, we might even say, is to make sure that prose is never allowed to have the last word.

Favorite poems include:

Horoscopes for the Dead

A fine book: less smirky and more sincere than earlier books, for example Ballistics.

The opening poem "Grave" (pp. 3-4) appeared in Best American Poetry 2010, as well as Best Spiritual Writing 2011.

Favorite poems include: "The Symbol" (pp. 64-65); "What She Said" (pp. 68-69); "My Hero" (p. 88). The last two are also included in Aimless Love (2013).

Acknowledges first publications in:

Nine Horses

Acknowledges first publications in:

Accessible poems, written in common speech that one might use in conversation, with a willingness to look death in the face. In this, they remind me of the (admittedly more romantic and less funny) poems of Sara Teasdale.

In his introduction to Best American Poetry 2006, Billy Collins specifies some selection criteria, so it's interesting to see to what extent he follows his own criteria. The sarcastic "The Student" reinforces Collins' inclination to disagree with rules:

   "My poetry instruction book,
   which I bought at an outdoor stall along the river,
   contains many rules
   about what to avoid and what to follow.
   More than two people in a poem
   is a crowd, is one.
   Mention the clothes you are wearing
   as you compose, is another.
   Avoid the word vortex,
   the word velvety, and the word cicada.

Here are some of Collins' Best American Poetry 2006 criteria, and Collins' tendencies:

  1. "A human voice speaking to me ... interested in my participation as a reader." 18 (almost half) of the poems sidle up to the reader and address the reader as 'you', often meaning the generic you-as-audience, sometimes implying the spouse, and sometimes naming a person.
  2. Opening lines that start "in the 'factual'": all his poems do that.
  3. He follow John Ciardi's: "flaws that prevented him from reading any further. ... the mention of mythological beings and the apostrophe 'Oh!' found places on his list." None were noticed.
  4. Collins cheerfully declares (implying the fickleness of such lists) that he cannot read further in a poem with the word cicada. Easy exercise for the reader: which cicada-bearing poem entered this book?
  5. Poems that are largely memories, particularly of family members or of items associated with a dead person. While many of his poems are set in the present, he certainly reminisces.
  6. "Poems that presume an interest on my part in the poet-speaker's psychic condition (usually misery)." [They all do.] And at least six (15%) of the poems are about the poet's process.


Time Line.

Born William J. ("Billy") Collins on March 22.

Began teaching at Lehman College, New York.

Poetry magazine selected him as "Poet of the Year".

Recorded The Best Cigarette, a collection of his poems.


Began first term as 44th Poet Laureate of the United States.
Concluded as Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College, City University of New York.

Began second term as 44th Poet Laureate of the United States.
Published Nine Horses.

Ended double-term term as 44th Poet Laureate of the United States.

New York State Poet for 2004.

Published The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems.

Billy Collins selected poems for Best American Poetry 2006.

Published Ballistics.

Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds: edited by Billy Collins; paintings by David Allen Sibley.

Published Horoscopes for the Dead.

Published Aimless Love : New and Selected Poems.


Links and Books

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